The Tragedy At Camp Liberty: My Thoughts

May 13, 2009

When a Soldier is downrange in a combat zone, they have to rely on the men and women who are with them, to watch their back. They work closely with each other, as a team to ensure the safety and well being of everyone. In this situation, they should never have to be concerned that one of their brothers or sisters will turn on them and take their life. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen very often. Unfortunately, it did happen in Iraq at Camp Liberty on May 11th.

I’ve been silent on this subject, since the story broke, because I wanted to obtain more details, before I wrote about it. I wanted to make sure that I had as much information as possible, instead of basing what I wanted to say on supposition and only partial information.

Incidents of fratricide in the Army, since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq started have been few, however they have occurred. When something like this occurs, it’s a tragedy for everyone involved …. The victims, their family members, the Army, the country and the suspect’s family. None of us may ever know what drove Sgt John M. Russell to take the lives of 5 fellow service members. But it’s obvious that there were concerns about his mental stability, enough so, that his command had removed his weapon and ordered him to seek mental health counseling at the Combat Stress Center where the incident took place.

His father has spoken to the press and stated publically that while his son forfeited his life by committing these crimes, that he feels the Army is also responsible for the rampage his son went on, stating that the Army ‘broke him.’ That comment, got me thinking about different cases that I’ve read about or been involved in, throughout my career in law enforcement and EMS over the years. In almost every instance in which a multiple homicide occurred, when the perpetrator was found, friends family and neighbors all commented “I can’t believe he/she would do that. He/she is not that kind of person. They’ve always been so polite and caring.” I see the same thing occurring in this case, even before all the facts are made public. Unfortunately, we may never know what was going on inside this man’s head, when he made the conscious choice to overpower his escort, take his weapon and return to the Combat Stress Clinic and open fire.

While I agree that the repeated deployments have played a large part in the mental health concerns of many of our Troops, I just don’t see how this incident can be blamed on anyone but the person who made the choice to pull the trigger. I’ve dealt with many people who are suffering from PTSD, some very severe cases, and each of them still was able to distinguish the difference between right and wrong.

According to an email that the suspect sent his wife, he apparently feared that because his command has ordered him into counseling, that they were trying to drive him out of the Army. Knowing how much emphasis the Army and the entire military as a whole is putting on mental health services and how much they are encouraging Soldiers to seek help for mental health problems, I’m not so sure that’s what was intended at all. So many times, with the appropriate treatments, Soldiers can continue to serve in the military, even if they have been treated for PTSD. I’m sure when everything is said and done that there were many factors that were involved in this situation, some that Sgt. Russell may never tell to anyone about.

Having had the experience of working closely with Army CID in my current job, I know that they’re very thorough in their investigations and that they will not leave any stone unturned. They will do everything necessary to get to the truth behind what happened.
According to information that has been released, Sgt Russell was serving his 3rd deployment in Iraq and was only 6 weeks away from redeploying back to the US. Here are the facts that are currently known:

1. Sgt. Russell initially was an Army National Guard in 1988 where he served until 1994. He then enlisted in Active Duty, stationed in Germany with his wife.
2. A few days before the shooting at Camp Liberty, his commanders grew concerned about his mental state and confiscated his weapon. (This is a precaution that commanders take downrange whenever they become concerned).
3. He was referred to counseling at the Combat Stress Center the week prior to the shooting.
4. He got into an argument with someone at the Combat Stress Clinic and was asked to leave.
5. He overpowered his escort and took his weapon from him, returning to the combat stress center and opening fire.
6. Sgt Russell was arrested outside the clinic, shortly after the shooting.

According to an interview that his father did with a local new station, counselors at the Combat Stress Clinic were conducting testing on his son, and he claims that his son was not aware that they were just tests. He’s gotta be kidding, right? His father further stated that his son emailed his wife telling here that his life was over as far as he was concerned and that his son wasn’t a violent man. Something else come to light thought that I found interesting and really gives me a different perspective into this man. Sgt. Russell was married once before. In 1991 his ex-wife filed for divorce, and filed for a restraining order against him. In the divorce petition, his ex-wife stated that he had committed acts of family violence (not a violent man, huh?) and should be barred from having contact with her and their child who at the time was 2 years old. About a month after the divorce was finalized in 1993, Sgt. Russell was charged with misdemeanor assault by threats, though those charges were later dropped.1 Somehow, I just didn’t get the picture of a non-violent man, when I read these things about his past.

This is a horrific incident, which affected the lives of many, many innocent people and ended the life for 5 of our brave Soldiers. The military is reviewing the mental health services, to ensure that the appropriate services are available to Troops while deployed as well as when they return home. Please keep the families of Army Maj. Matthew Houseal, Army Sgt Christian Bueno-Galdos, Army Spc Jacob Barton, Army Pfc Michael Yates Jr and Navy Cmdr Charles Springle, in your thoughts and prayers as they lay their loved ones to rest, as a result of this senseless tragedy. The family of Sgt. Russell is suffering and coming to grips with what he did as well. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well. It’s only natural that they support him, as this situation unfolds, and I feel for them, as they come to grips with the kind of monster he truly is. As for Sgt. Russell, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for him. In fact, I’d say I pretty much agree with everything that CJ at A Soldier’s Perspective had to say about it. My hope that as his Courts Martial unfolds that he will be found guilty of the crimes that he committed and that he will be given the harshest punishment possible, which in my opinion should be the death penalty.

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One Response to “The Tragedy At Camp Liberty: My Thoughts”

  1. PFC Oliver on May 15th, 2009 9:41 pm

    i believe he should get the death penalty.. i heard about this while over here in iraq, and to my suprise to find out his story, he has no sympathy over here from anyone

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